LAUREN LEIGH: Ghost in the Picture
This album has a sophisticated yet comfortable feel. It makes me want to curl up in front of a fire and blend into it for an afternoon, over and over again. Leigh sings with equal parts ease and conviction; there is no ambiguity, only open and honest heart and soul. Some tracks have a definite old-school jazzy vibe and make me remember music I listened to in the’70s, notably Barbra Streisand and Phoebe Snow. It doesn’t actually sound like either of them, it’s just that it’s on that same level of finesse and elegance. Everyone involved contributed perfectly to creating that vibe.
Leigh wrote all the songs, except for the lyrics on “Black Rose Canyon,” which are by Al Howard. The players are Sam Hunt on guitars, Joshua Taylor on guitars and backing vocals, Josh Weinstein on keys and strings, and Harley Magsino on electric and upright bass, Tony Econom on drums and percussion, and Sandi King on backing vocals. On “I Loved You Reprise,” Ben Zinn plays pedal steel and Leigh’s father Claudio Martin plays acoustic guitar.
The first track, “Foul Play,” opens light and airy with cymbal taps and single-note repeating lines on acoustic guitar. This continues as Leigh begins singing, while light snare and keys are added, followed by a rise from the bass at :40, which feels like a tidal rush in and back out to the second verse. There is less open space now, more instruments fill it in, and we hear Sandi King on backing vocals, just a hint, like breathing. The chorus begins: “And the fire we laid by all night, well, it’s ashes now…it’s all ashes now,” and it would have me mistakenly thinking it held the title. But instead, it’s dramatically revealed at 2:08 “roll a joint and raise a glass to foul play.” I am compelled to believe it was the right move. I’ll admit to having prior knowledge of the origin of this song, and what sounds convincingly like metaphors throughout are actually statements of fact. It works either way, just right.
“Never Getting Old” starts off with what sounds like a toy piano, which creates a sense of nostalgia for childhood and reminiscing. As Leigh begins: “What a joy it’s been, what a pleasure, what a ball,” she brings me almost to tears; her voice is so subtly full of angst and hopes and dreams, and the acknowledgement of a well-worn journey to the here and now. She is joined by drums and bass while acoustic guitar takes over for the toy piano, mimicking the same lines. The chorus at 1:11 presents a change that lifts me up. The strings build along with the melody that insists on repeating until it breaks on the last line and resolves: “Here’s to us never getting old.” And again, we hear King’s impeccable harmony along with Weinstein’s wistful strings. The next verse begins with something on percussion that brings to mind walking a deserted street late at night. I can see it and I can feel it. Keys follow that same opening line, but now on a grownup piano, and the sound seems to signal acceptance and coming of age. “Heaven’s a place for us to dance around. I’ll see you when our feet finally touch the ground.” Back to the final chorus, We don’t know where this new road will go. You might be gone, but I think I’ve always known that beauty’s inside the eyes that you hold.” The toy piano returns to close the song. I love that creative choice; it reminds us that as much as things seem to change, they really stay the same. This is my favorite.
“I Loved You” begins with piano and percussion, feeling like a memory and sounding like a rainy day. Joined by bass and acoustic guitar, Leigh’s opening melody lines are exquisite perfection. A quick swell of strings and backing vocals join her at :52, and then she finishes the verse alone. The chorus is short but packed with melodic changes that allude to the complicated nature of love, followed by an intentional and slightly uncomfortable silence. Piano, drums, and guitars begin again, lush and expressive, holding Leigh’s aloneness so securely it hurts. “I’m scared to be alone and that’s the truth, but love is based on circumstance.” We’re back to the chorus, and Leigh sings the last line: “I loved you, but I don’t know if I can ever love again,” as the instruments fade before her voice and she is once again alone. Classic.
“Jack’s Lullaby” starts with the keys playing weighty and full, not sounding at all like a lullaby. Leigh’s lyrics, however, are endearing and sweet yet also possess a determined strength: “Good night, darling, the sun has settled in. Tomorrow, we can do it all again. Look outside you can see the stars putting on their show. Don’t worry about the way your day did or didn’t go.” The melody is pleasantly predictable and comfortable, at times melancholic; the arrangement is open and sparse. The song was written for Leigh’s son (now 13) whose five-year-old voice is heard at 1:45, saying: “I sound like you and you sound like me…it means it’s another way of saying I love you,” amid the backing vocals that have now joined Leigh in singing. It is a beautiful and touching moment, and, as a mother myself, I appreciate the tribute and permanence of having the clip be part of the song. Leigh’s final words: “Good night, darling, good night, my love.” The same moodiness on the keys ends the song.
Additional songs are “Lonesome California,” “Room for One,” “Black Rose Canyon,” and the instrumental “I Loved You Reprise.” Please, have a listen, they are all gold.
The instruments were recorded at Stairway Studios in Los Angeles with producer/engineer Fernando Perdomo. The vocals were recorded and the album was mixed at Satellite Studios in San Diego with producer/engineer Jeff Berkley and assistant engineer Amelia Sarkisian; it was mastered by Robbie Robinson. Ghost in the Picture streams on all major platforms and is available for purchase at any price through Bandcamp. Visit www.laurenleighmusic.com
Note: This album has been nominated by the SDMA for Best Pop Album of the Year! Good luck, Lauren! We’ll be rooting for you on April 25!